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When is e-learning something more than web-based CBT?


E-learning has already become the catchphrase of the new millennium. How long this lasts will ultimately depend on whether e-learning really does take advantage of the opportunities provided by the Internet medium.

At the moment, even within the fast growing e-learning industry, there is no clear definition of what e-learning actually is, and the distinctions between e-learning and computer based training (CBT) have become muddied. Indeed many of the ‘e-learning’ products on the market are simply web based CBT. Nothing wrong with that as a product – but CBT is CBT whether launched from a CDROM or the Internet. Changing the method of delivering an existing training product does not a revolution make.

E-learning should and can be about something much more.

If e-learning is going to revolutionise learning in the work place it will need to take full advantage of the potential offered by the Internet, and that means making use of the Internet's immediacy, its flexibility and its cost efficiency. To date many products have focused solely on the latter of these.

So what do I mean by immediacy and flexibility? Let's start with immediacy. We need to remember that in addition to providing the ability to download information stored on remote computers, the Internet provides an ability to communicate on a real time basis with people across the world. This means that e-learning has the potential to capture some of the positive elements of traditional classroom-based training – the discussion, the sharing of ideas and experience, the learning together as a team. Forums, chat-rooms and online seminars can already replicate these elements.

Flexibility is an equally important point. We all understand within the training industry that different people like to learn in different ways. Peter Honey’s model of Reflector, Theorist, Pragmatist and Activist is a good one, that illustrates this point very well. E-learning may never be suitable for all learners (and almost certainly not for all topics), but by capitalising on the flexibility of the Internet, it can be much more effective, for many more people, that it often currently is. A few companies are already beginning to realise the flexibility offered by the Internet – one major e-learning company already provides individually tailored training which comprises any combination of online seminars, pro-active or reactive mentoring, access to relevant white papers/reports and courses that include realistic simulations.

This illustration provides for me a clear indication of what is the difference between E-learning and CBT, and I would like to offer these definitions for the two products:

CBT -self contained computer-based training, launched locally or via the Internet.
E-learning – an individually tailored Internet-based training package comprised of a range of learning options.

I believe we are at the start of what will prove to be a real and enduring revolution in work place training, assuming more providers, and importantly customers, begin to realise the possibilities of this new training medium. Indeed, the long term potential will be limited only by investment and imagination.

Investment is an important point here. Many small companies have taken advantage of the Internet to deliver their training products online and many of these contributions to the portfolio of learning material are good and valuable in their own right. However, to create a true e-learning experience along the lines of that which I have described takes major investment. The good news for the smaller players is that with technical industry standards being applied to CBT and E-learning material, there should be ample scope for specialist and exceptional CBT products to sit alongside e-Learning, tracked and monitored by the same Training Management System.

pdc online is a single source for high quality training, including e-learning and CBT. For more information about our products and services, visit us at

This article submitted by Rod Webb.


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